“It’s a walk in the park” A green solution to lower air and noise pollution

Is there a green solution to lower air and noise pollution on your daily commute to work? Find out in this blog by Dr. John Gallagher, a post-doctoral researcher (Civil and Environmental Engineer) at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and Bangor University.

Have you ever thought about the route you take to work? Could you take a better route? What is a better route? I ask myself these questions when I make my commute to work every morning. I have realised that we are creatures of habit, and we consciously or perhaps unconsciously like routine. What are we missing out on due to routine?

Our city parks for example, a valuable resource that provides us with green zones and offers a place to escape from the fast pace of urban life. Yet, do we take advantage of them during our daily commute, where they are available on our route? They can provide a much greener alternative to a busy roadside footpath, but is that the only benefit? What about lower noise levels and better air quality? Perhaps this is not a priority for many of us?

Research proved a long time ago that the closer you are to the source of pollution, the greater the exposure. At least the existence of a barrier between the source (car) and receptor (us), can reduces the level we are exposed to on a daily basis. Anything from parked cars, hedgerows and trees can help protect us from the nearby source to some degree. Trees along the outer edge of the park creates a baffle to protect those inside from direct high levels of noise and air pollution. Use that to your advantage, take a walk in the park!

roadside and park
Parallel routes – roadside and park paths.

From a noise pollution perspective, as part of a study that was undertaken in 2015 by myself and colleagues, we examined paired routes (one roadside path and one parallel park path) around Hyde Park in London. Hyde Park is a perfect example of a city park to enjoy the green space as part of a commute. Comparing the results between routes showed a reduction in decibel levels due to a combination of increased distance from the road, plus the presence and density of vegetation. Other research studies have shown similar benefits for air pollution.

Despite these results, approximately half the number of pedestrians walk along the roadside footpath as opposed to the parallel path in the park. The next question to answer is how to change behaviour? And who should take responsibility to help change this routine behaviour?

Next time you’re walking through the city, consider this “is this the best route for me to have a more tranquil and less polluted trip?” Taking a diverted route through your nearby park may not increase your journey time, and even if it does by one minute, avoiding the highest roadside levels of noise and air pollution from traffic might be worth it. Enjoy a healthier, greener route in your area and consider changing your routine by changing your route.

Author: Dr. John Gallagher, Bangor University, School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, Trinity College Dublin, Department of Civil, Structural & Environmental Engineering

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